This is not a new problem. Most "old timers" faced the same predicament many
years ago. We simply "varnished" or painted approximately one-half of the
floor, being careful to provide a decent pathway to the "john". After
several days, do the rest of the floor. Of course, you will always have the
possibility of someone stepping on the outermost end. Therefore, we always
made our "one-half" more like 60 to 70 percent. Been there, done that.
Penetrating finishes, like linseed oil, may look nice really nice on
furniture, but they are WAY too thin for proper protection on a floor,
especially a hall floor with a bathroom at one end (= high traffic).
Oil finishes also provide very little resistance to water penetration
so spilling water on the floor or even walking across it with wet feet
could stain or damage it. Mopping would be catestrophic.
Evaporative finishes, such as lacquer or shellac, provide more
protection than a penetrating oil, but still far too little for a
high-traffic floor. Shellac has poor resistance to heat, water, and
alcohol, and is not nearly as wear-resistant as polyurethane. Shellac
forms a finish by essentially "drying out". The solvent (alcohol)
evaporates leaving behind a dense layer of shellac particles. There is
no chemical bond holding the particles together so the finish is not
very wear resistant, and subsequent exposure to alcohol will
re-dissolve the finish.
A reactive finish, such as polyurethane or various other varnishes, is
what you'll need on a floor. In this case, the finish is not formed by
simply evaporating the solvent. Rather, as the solvent evaporates, the
varnish molecules react with oxygen and crosslink to each other,
forming a new material which is impervious to the original solvent.
Because the molecules are bonded chemically, not just physically, the
resulting finish is MUCH more wear-resistant than evaporative finishes.
Water-based polyurethane is a little different than the reactive finish
described above, but you can think of it as essentially the same. One
advantage over oil-based poly is that the solvent content is much
lower, so the fumes are weaker and safer. Another advantage is that
drying time (not to be confused with curing time) is a lot faster than
most oil-based varnishes, but you'll still need to wait several hours
between coats and several days after the final coat before allowing
heavy traffic. Another advantage (possibly, depending on what you
want) is that the water-based poly is clearer in color and doesn't
amber over time.
One big disadvantage to keep in mind with the water-based stuff is that
it will raise the grain on your flooring. If you're looking to get a
perfectly smooth finish, you'll have to either wet the floor ahead of
time and sand off the raised grain or sand with fine-grit sandpaper
after the first coat or two.
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